PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - The wind was strong enough to knock branches from palm trees and keep Tiger Woods without a birdie on his card for the first time in four years. It really got blustery when Rory Sabbatini completed a 5-under 67 Thursday to share the first-round lead with Phil Mickelson at The Players Championship.
Sabbatini, a pint-sized South African, is not short on confidence, even after calling out Woods last week and losing to him.
"I think he's more beatable than ever," Sabbatini said.
In a grueling start on the refurbished TPC Sawgrass, where gusts reached 39 mph and made the island green look even more terrifying, Woods wasn't much of a threat to anyone. He had only four good looks at birdie, three-putted three times and had to save par from 90 feet behind the green on his final hole for a 3-over 75, matching his highest score at The Players.
It was his first round without a birdie since the opening round of the 2003 Masters.
"The greens are a little bit tricky to read," Woods said. "Different grain out there than we're used to, and I had a tougher time than the guys at the top of the board."
Mickelson had no problem. In his third week working with swing coach Butch Harmon, he birdied the first two holes and held it together with a nifty par save from an awkward slope around the seventh green to join Sabbatini at 67.
Chris DiMarco, winless in five years and now coping with a bum shoulder, shot 68 for his best round of the year. Peter Lonard was 3 under. Only 16 players broke par, and Retief Goosen had the only bogey-free round.
The famed par-3 17th played extremely tough, with 50 balls landing in the water. It broke the single-round tournament record of 45 set in 2000.
As co-leaders, Sabbatini and Mickelson represent a contrast in many ways, particularly their attitude toward the world's No. 1 player. Mickelson said this week that he relishes competing against Woods, and he has beaten him a fair amount, including three majors.
But he also realizes that he can never match Woods' record of 57 tour victories and 12 majors.
Sabbatini shows no fear, and is one of the few players who openly invites a chance to take on Woods - even after last week at the Wachovia Championship, where Sabbatini had a one-shot lead until closing with a 74 to Woods' 69.
Sabbatini said he wanted Woods in the final group every week. Told that Woods opened with a 75, Sabbatini said, "I want him to pick it up and we'll be up there late on Sunday."
His obsession with Woods dates to a year ago, when Sabbatini won the Nissan Open. Woods withdrew on the weekend with the flu, although he was never in contention. Even so, Sabbatini said he had heard whispers that his victory at Riviera didn't mean much because Woods wasn't around, and he was eager to prove himself last week.
Sabbatini has been brash before. But the timing of Thursday's remarks were odd. Woods beat him by five shots last Sunday at Quail Hollow, and the world's No. 1 player has won nine of his last 12 starts on the PGA Tour.
What makes him so beatable?
"I've seen Tiger when he hits the ball well," Sabbatini said. "But I think Sunday, he struggled out there. ... he's as beatable as ever. I've seen him when he figures it out. It's scary. I don't want to see that anymore. I like the new Tiger."
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - Sarah Lee tied the course record with an 8-under 63 to take a one-stroke lead over Mi Hyun Kim in the Michelob Ultra Open.
Lee, seeking her first victory in her 124th tour start, had nine birdies - including five in a row on the front nine on the River Course at Kingsmill.
Kim, had a bogey-free 64 in wind-free conditions.
Laura Davies and Birdie Kim opened with 65s, while Brittany Lincicome, Suzann Pettersen and Siew-Ai Lim had 66s.
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